Web Extra: Sherri Geldin on the Wexner Center's Past, Present and Future

Kristen Schmidt

The Wexner Center for the Arts is celebrating its 25th anniversary all year long, but Nov. 16 was the center's official birthday. It was on that date in 1989 that the center was dedicated by a star-studded cast, including Leslie Wexner, the Ohio State marching band, actress Colleen Dewhurst, composer Philip Glass and performance artist Laurie Anderson, among others.

For our November issue, we sifted through a few hundred pages of events that have taken place at the center in the last 25 years, creating a (very) limited timeline of performances, screenings and exhibitions.

The size and scope of these events is staggering-the who's who of the contemporary art world has been at the Wexner Center at some point in the last couple of decades. To provide context to that timeline, I asked Wexner Center director Sherri Geldin to share some favorite memories.

Onthe 1995-96 Roy Lichtenstein show

When Geldin was hired at the Wexner Center in 1993, a landmark retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein's work was being mounted at the Guggenheim museum in New York; she wanted to bring the show to Columbus. Lichtenstein had been a student and teacher at Ohio State. His "Brushstrokes in Flight"-which former Columbus Mayor Dana "Buck" Rinehart once tried to trade for a statue of Christopher Columbus-is permanently installed at Port Columbus airport.

Everything seemed to be on track until she got a note from the Guggenheim stating otherwise. She picks up the story from there:

I sat here heartsick and heartsunk and panicked. But I gathered my composure to the degree I could and wrote an insanely pleading note to Roy. It was pre-digital days, so I sent a hard-copy letterviaFedEx. I have no idea what's going to happen. But a call comes through the next day from Roy. I say,"Hello," and he says two words:"You win."

This man is a giant, and he is a prince. So we worked our hearts out to make this show spectacular. A lot of the loans (from art museums and collections) were about to drop off, so we substituted major works where we needed to … Roy and [his wife] Dorothy came. It was the prodigal son's homecoming. We had a fabulous time, and that relationship continued until Roy died. I'm in touch with Dorothy to this day.

On the 2002MoodRiver exhibition

Mood River was an ambitious, exhaustive exhibition about design, containing about 2,000 objects, many of which were auctioned to the public off when the show closed.

This was an exhibition that looked at design from every one of its facets, from aerospace to automotive to athletic to interior. There was a fully operational skate bowl that had been designed and built by an artist collective. "CBS Sunday Morning" came and covered it. It was phenomenal. It was brilliant.

On the1999-2000Julie Taymor exhibition

It was our most ambitious undertaking in terms of production values. We literally recreated the sets of 10 major Broadway shows. That was a two-year project, at least, in the making. It was meant not just to underscore her talent but the multidisciplinary nature of the center. She was on the cusp of going fromdowntown vanguard theater producer to something quite a bit more popular and commercial with the production of The Lion King. We're always looking to be able to share with people that kind of commercial success that often has its roots in a much more radical practice. She was skeptical initially but then worked very closely with us.

On William Wegman

We had a wonderful time with him, and he with us. He subsequently created an image of two dogs in OSU gear. He turns them into insouciant devil-may-care OSU students looking out from under their hoods.

On the 2008-2009 Andy Warhol show

Geldin had seen the show at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and learned it was scheduled to travel to other cities, including Stockholm and London. She wanted it to stop at the Wexner Center, too.

This was the first [Warhol show] that was looking at the totality of his practice-in prints, photography, television, film, ephemera, books. The head of the Stedelijk said it's already got a tour, and it was going to Stockholm at the exact time we wanted it. So we duplicated the show and simultaneously presented it with the virtue of Warhol having made prints. With regard to the paintings, the unique work, it wasn't hard to replicate. We worked with a design firm in Germany that had designed the original show and the subsequent ones. They did an extraordinary installation.

On the Wexner Center's evolution

I had essentially cut my professional teeth on a brand-new institution, but one thatin fairly short order managed to attract international acclaim. I recognized that for what it was, and it wascompelling artists and bringing together the most accomplished and rigorous curators and educators. When I alighted in Columbus,the Wexner Center was located in what no one would call a contemporary culture capital.I knew how to do this only oneway. I didn't think by virtue of being part of a university orbeing inthe Midwest orbeing a relatively new institution.I didn't see any of those aseither impediments or rationales for diminishing my own aspirations. Itwas clear to me that extraordinary peoplewere already here. There were sophisticated hungry people in the community who would get on planes to experience things elsewhere.I'd like to think that over time wehave broadened and deepened thataudience for contemporary culture. It's completely fair to say that, looking at theevolution of the cultural landscape in Columbus, that it has become ever more contemporary in the last two decades. It'salso fair to say the Wexner Center has played a part in that.